Book by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Erying
Review by Christi L. Hutchison
Office of Teacher Education
University of Wyoming
If you have ever wondered what possibilities may exist if a college or university suddenly decided to make major directional changes that included eliminating all intercollegiate sporting teams; scheduling courses all day so that classrooms were constantly in use, including in the summers; paying faculty to only teach and linking raises to success in the classroom; and viewing academic advising as critical to attaining the missions goals, then you need to examine The Innovative University by Clayton Christensen and Henry J. Eyring. This book takes a wide-angle view of Harvard University and Brigham Young University–Idaho in an effort to comparatively analyze why Harvard is successful as a key top-tier research and educational institution, why most colleges and universities that attempt to emulate Harvard are not as successful, especially financially, and what BYU-Idaho altered in their institution’s mission to be a quality institution where teaching and student learning are the top priorities. These authors have found that disruptive innovation can be embraced by higher educational institutions with successful ends, provided that the standards of success are altered with a new and updated definition.
Initially there is a description of what disruptive innovation is, where ideas are formulated, and what other ventures are prime examples of how effective the results of disruptive innovation can be. Following this important foundation was the overview of Harvard University. In order to understand the current model of higher education as it appears across the contemporary United States, an understanding of the premier model is established through following Harvard’s history from inception up to today. Blended in at specific times, the much briefer history of BYU-Idaho is also established in comparison to Harvard and as an example of schools trying to model the premier educational system that is Harvard. Once the historical reasoning is established as to why Harvard is successful and why other’s struggle in emulation, the book then delves into how and why changes must be made within higher education.
The bulk of the book is an intriguing and coherent comparison and contrast between the traditional academy structure and the divergent path taken by one school that made the conscious decision not to follow suit. The explanation as to why Harvard is successful in the numerous facets that it is within higher education is well grounded. Although it seems that not as many pages are devoted to the story of BYU-Idaho’s coming of age, enough is written for the reader to understand the distinct challenges that this institution faced over time and why the path the school leaders’ chose to follow was not the traditional path as established by iconic Harvard.
In regard to the applicability of this book for academic advisors, it is not prescriptive of how to work with students, faculty or administrators in a new mode of daily interactions. Yet, it is a wonderful book to read for a historical context of the daily battles fought regarding the traditions and deeply ingrained mind-set of higher education. It allows the reader, whether at a small or extremely large school, to understand the ingrained notions of the academic realm in the United States. From this common foundation, it is then an opening for dialogue on what may be altered for new goals and interactions within these individual goals, on the values and traditions that are worth keeping and reinvesting in and those that are not, and on how each individual involved in an institution can be- and should be- responsible for part of any change, no matter how small or large. For some, it is also a book that shines light on optimism that higher education as an institution will be able to emerge from the questions of quality and accountability that now seemingly surround the collective if leaders are willing to acknowledge that maybe not every institution is meant to be Harvard.
The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out (2011). Book by Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Erying. Review by Christi L. Hutchison. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 512 pp. $32.95. ISBN # 978-1-1108-6348-4